Al Gore’s Our Choice is now an app
Climate education has received a digital makeover, making learning about climate change a visually stimulating and interactive experience for the general (iPad/iPhone owning) public. This USA Today article reports that Al Gore's Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis is now offered as a rich app that includes 250 full-screen images, geotagged locations, an hour of documentary footage, and interactive infographics. Gore says the "immersive" app is a solution for communicating subject matter that is "difficult, new, challenging," yet "incredibly important."
Posted 4.28.2011 on USA Today
Al Gore is bringing his climate crisis campaign to the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. On Thursday, Gore unveiled the digital iOS version of Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, a rich interactive app that enhances the former vice president's 2009 print bestseller.
The visually appealing app exploits a brand new digital publishing platform from a startup called Push Pop Press, which worked with Our Choice publisher Rodale Inc. and digital media producer Melcher Media on the project. You can easily navigate the book's 19 chapters by swiping with your fingers. The app includes 250 full-screen images, some of which fold or unfold on the page when you pinch or spread your fingers. If you're wondering where a particular picture was shot, you can tap on an image to summon an interactive map that displays its geotagged location. An hour of documentary footage is also included, showing, for example, 1930s footage of the Dust Bowl that plagued the American Great Plains and BBC's footage of the deadly 1952 London Fog.
And the app also contains numerous original interactive infographics and animations. For instance, you can slide your finger along a graph to see how the world population has grown (and is projected to grow) from 1AD to 230. You can spin a dial to see various ways a passive solar home stays warm in winter and cool in summer. In a chapter on Harvesting The Wind, you can blow into the iPad's microphone to generate wind on an interactive windmill. Throughout the app, Gore lends his voice to audio commentary.
The app is now available in Apple's App Store for the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch at an introductory promo price of $4.99. Gore is donating all his profits to the Alliance for Climate Protection.
You can watch a trailer of the app here.
I sat down with the former vice president in New York to discuss the venture. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion.
Did you envision doing an app when you were writing the printed version of the book?
Gore: Yes but not at the beginning of the book writing process. We went about looking for the right team. What we did in the latter stages of finishing up the printed version of the book is we tried to reimagine what it could be as an app. And what resulted is a large number of interactive infographics, audio, more than an hour of documentary footage, photo essays, animations created especially for this.
Given the nature of the subject, how helpful it is to have all these visual tools to explain stuff?
Gore: It's incredibly important. Many years ago one of the principle reasons why I shifted from giving speeches to presenting slide shows, some with animations, was precisely because the subject matter is difficult, new, challenging and yet it's incredibly important to communicate the subject matter. So an app may become the queen of media in the sense that it's so immersive. It combines what we used to think of as books, movies, audio, animation, graphics, and makes them interactive. There is nothing between you and the app. There is no computer hurdle to clear. All you need is your fingers.
How do you measure success?
Gore: I don't have a number in mind. My metric for success is getting across the tipping point beyond which enough people will say we've got to solve the climate crisis and now that we know what the solutions are, lets get on with it. It's a blunt metric but that's the goal I've been working toward for a long time in various ways and this feels like the most productive way of communicating this information.
How should someone approach the app?
Gore: As the author I would love them to start at the beginning and go straight through. As a realist I know that most will jump around a bit, look at the parts of it that feel most interesting to them at the time. I suspect many will be drawn into other parts of it because they enjoy the experience.
Do you categorize this as an amplified ebook?
Gore: It's an app. I suspect you will have more to do with the evolution of this new vocabulary than I will. But it doesn't exist yet, really. We're reaching for it. You know the old quote from Chesterton that when technology comes sufficiently advanced, it's indistinguishable from magic. I think the experience has an excitement all its own.
(Correction: The paraphrased "magic" quote should be attributed to Arthur C. Clarke.)
What kind of material did you add from the original book?
Gore: I have changed it for two reasons. Number one, I've updated the text and material and added pictures, etc. for things like the Fukushima tragedy. There are other examples where events over the last year and a half are captured in this version. Second thing is there is a huge amount of brand new material in the app. For example, the London Fog (BBC) sidebar video.
Might you update this app from here?
Gore: We haven't made that decision yet. It's possible.
Might you produce a version for Android or other platforms?
Gore: The answer is probably no because of the technological appeal of iOS. The economics of the two stores are completely different. I'm biased because of my connection to Apple but the margins and opportunities associated with the Apple store are completely different from the Android model.
As an Apple board member, did you reach out to anybody at Apple as you were doing this?
Gore: I did not pull any strings, let me put it that way. First contacts were through the normal channels that I had nothing to do with. This didn't come top-down through Apple at all.
Now that you've done it, how does this make you think differently about future projects or publishing?
Gore: I think we now live in a multiplatform world and books as books will continue to play an enormous role in our culture. I think that authors of books will continue in a majority of situations to write books and some of them will be translated into apps. But increasingly there will be brand new publishing projects that go straight to app. Somebody was saying earlier that when television first started they basically turned cameras on a radio show (where) people (were) reading. The evolution of the publishing industry will roughly follow a pattern like that—we'll go through a period where the old form dominates the thinking, which goes into the translation of the new form. We'll reach an inflection point where people jump straight into app form.
Rodale published An Inconvenient Truth also and when the movie came out the two platforms supported one another. Synergy is a discounted word now after the Time Inc.-AOL era, but the concept is still very powerful. And the fact that it was on both platforms really made each more impactful. I think that the print book Our Choice coexisting with the app has some of that as well.
But your hope obviously is that the app will bring a new audience to your message?
Gore: Absolutely. Yes. I want to solve the climate crisis. That's my measure of success. We're putting 90 million tons a day up there. It's not good. Getting worse more rapidly. The solutions are available. This app is all about the solutions.
I am (optimistic). The more people find this information about how the solutions are available the more optimistic I get. There are still some hurdles to clear but we'll clear them, we'll get there.
Is there a social networking component within the app?
No. Largely because we've been working all out to get it done like this. It's a good idea though and there's no reason why it can't evolve to that quickly.
See photos of: Al Gore